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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAX                                                                        179
ride a bike and dance the polka with the ladies. ... Good
work, I tell you!"
He inserted Alexei's right stump into the soft, woollen
socket of the artificial limb, fastened it firmly with the
straps and then stood back and clicked his tongue admir-
ktlt's a nice boot! Does it fit? Doesn't pinch anywhere,
does it? I should say so! You'll not find a better craftsman
than Zuyev in the whole of Moscow!"
With deft hands he put the other limb on, but scarcely
had he fastened the straps when Meresyev, with a sud-
den jerk, sprang from the bed on to the floor. A dull
thud followed. Meresyev uttered a cry of pain and
dropped full length to the floor by the side of the bed. The
old craftsman was so surprised that his spectacles shifted
to his forehead. He had not expected his customer to be
so frisky. Meresyev lay on the floor stunned and helpless,
his booted artificial feet spread wide apart. His eyes
expressed perplexity, pain and fear. Had he really been
deceiving himself?
Bringing her hands together in amazement, Klavdia
Mikhailovna rushed to him. Assisted by the old crafts-
man, she raised Alexei and sat him on his bed. There he
sat limp and dejected, a picture of despair.
"He-eh, young man! You mustn't do that!" expostu-
lated the old craftsman. "Jumps up as if they were real,
live feet! But you mustn't be down-hearted, either. You've
got to learn to walk, right from the beginning. Forget
that you are a soldier for the time being. You're a little
toddler, and you've got to learn, step by step, first with
crutches, then holding on to the wall, and after that with
a stick. You can't do it all at once; you've got to do it
gradually. But you go and jump up like that! They're
good feet, but not your own. Nobody can make feet as
your papa and mama made them for you!"
Alexei's legs ached after this unlucky jump, but for
all that he was eager to try the artificial feet at once.
They brought him a pair of light, aluminium crutches.
He rested the ends on the floor, pressed the pads under
his arm-pits and, slowly and cautiously this time, slipped
from his bed and rose to his feet. And indeed, he stepped
out like an infant just learning to walk, instinctively